It started shortly after I arrived here four weeks ago. Mum was asking me where I was up to with my next book, and I told her that my agent, Chip, had it and was getting ready to send it to interested publishers next month.
“And how many of those are there?” She asked.
“I don’t exactly know,” I said. “But he said there are at least half a dozen people who’d like to see the full manuscript when we’re ready.”
Mum looked… well, “doubtful” is too strong a word. More like “slightly confused.”
“But… why?” She asked.
“What do you mean, why?” I repeated.
“Well they haven’t seen anything yet, so how do they know they want to see something?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Some of them read my last book. Some of them have been browsing the blog. Maybe some of them owe Chip a big favour. I don’t completely understand how it all works, to be honest.”
“Me either,” Mum said. Then she went a step further. “Also, I just don’t see how this book is going to appeal to as wide an audience as your last book.”
“I think you’re wrong there,” I said. “If it sells, and that’s still a big if, then I think this book has the potential to appeal to a far larger audience than Hands did.”
Mum did not look at all convinced.
This was not the end of the conversation – this topic has come up several times during the last month. Just the other day we were talking about Francine Rivers’ new book and I casually mentioned that I thought her first book, A Voice In The Wind, was the best she’d ever written.
“I think that of a lot of authors,” Mum said.
“Yeah,” I said, “Like Bryce Courtney and The Power of One…”
I was going to go on to list others but Mum got there first… with my name.
“Maybe like Lisa McKay,” she said.
“Mother!” I said, laughing but amazed. “What a thing to say!”
“Yes,” she said, only slightly abashed. “I guess it is.”
So, yesterday as we were driving into town, I brought it up again.
“Do you really think this book isn’t going to do well?” I asked. “I mean, for starters, you shouldn’t be comparing it to Hands because they’re totally different genres. One’s a suspense novel and the other is a reflective memoir woven around a romance story.”
“I guess that’s true,” Mum said. “And I haven’t read the whole thing yet so I don’t really know.”
“What??” This time I was honestly shocked. “You haven’t read the whole thing? Quite apart from the fact that that could deeply wound me if I were more fragile, how do you know I didn’t say something about you that you’ll hate?”
“Oh,” Mum said. “I trust your filters.”
This was getting truly bizarre given that exactly a month earlier I had been sitting across the breakfast table from my parents, having just disembarked the plane from Laos, while they asked me not to put anything on the blog about them without their prior approval while I was living at home.
“Well if you haven’t read the whole thing,” I said, “and you admit you don’t know all that much about the publishing industry, what would possess you to say things like ‘I don’t think this book will do as well as your first’?”
Mum squirmed just a little, unusual for her.
“I never meant to say that,” she said. “I guess I just meant to say that you had such an amazing experience the first time around being picked up by the first publisher you queried, and getting almost universally positive reviews, and having everyone tell you that you were wonderful… and it might not be like that this time around. I guess I just don’t want you getting your hopes up too high.”
“That is a very fair point,” I said. “But here is my point. With something that’s as deeply personal and important as this sort of project, maybe if you can’t honestly say, ‘Wow, I think this book is going to do just great’, maybe you should reconsider whether you say anything at all at this stage of the process. And, if you do, maybe you should work harder to phrase it more softly. You could, for example, say something like, ‘I’ll be interested to see if this book turns out to be as universally well-received as Hands.’”
“That is also a fair point,” Mum said, as she pulled into the parking lot.
There was a brief silence.
“So, are you finished?” Mum asked, looking commendably grave given that she was clearly also battling the strong temptation to laugh.
“For now,” I said, getting out of the car.
“OK then,” Mum said, swinging into task mode. “Could you please stop and pick up the bread and then I’ll meet you at the grocery store in five or so minutes?”
“Sure,” I said.
Five minutes later I was standing just outside the grocery store having been waylaid by tempting tables full of bargain books, when Mum approached.
“I thought I’d find you here when I saw the books laid out,” Mum said. “And have I told you lately what a smashing success I think your next book is going to be?”
As I laughed she leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek.